While Mikael Hafstrom’s The Rite is being promoted as a traditional horror film, its intentions are loftier than just getting its audience to jump out of its seats. Granted, it is effective in doing that on a few occasions, but the screenplay by Michael Petroni and the film itself is far more intriguing when it delves into issues of faith and morality as well as the existence of good and evil, which elevates it above standard horror fare.
Yielding to pressure from his father, Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) enrolls in seminary. However, upon completing the four-year program he abruptly quits before taking his final vows, citing a crisis of faith. Recognizing that this young man can still do some good, Father Matthew (Toby Jones) recommends that he enroll in the Vatican’s new exorcist training program. Michael reluctantly agrees and is sent to be tutored by Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a veteran exorcist who intends to alleviate his young charge’s doubts by having him assist with various possessed patients.
The back-and-forth between Michael and Lucas is the heart of the film. It proves intriguing as the former dismisses their subjects’ woes as mental illness or attention-seeking tricks, while the latter insists that what they are witnessing is far more dangerous than mere madness. Hopkins and O’Donoghue keep straight faces throughout and their gravitas sells this material so that we’re concentrating on the themes at hand rather than what might be out looking for fresh souls.
The film’s early exorcisms are effectively frightening, particularly sequences involving a pregnant 16-year-old who’s been raped by her father. As Lucas fights the good fight and Michael skeptically looks on, Hafstrom delivers some jarring moments and disturbing sights. To be sure, spitting out four-inch iron nails is more than a neat party trick.
The film’s final act is predictable and lacks the bite required to send the audience home properly shaken. Still, The Rite does succeed in posing that age-old theological question regarding the existence of absolute good and evil in an intriguing enough manner that it should have viewers talking long after the film’s final demon has been cast out.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.